2021 Notebook: The scandals that brought down Andrew Cuomo

THE BACKGROUND: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo entered 2021 as his reputation as a leader in the fight against COVID-19 began to unravel. But almost everyone expected it to be a year of triumph – both over his handling of the virus and over anyone standing in the way of an expected candidacy for a fourth term.

Instead, the problems came in waves. In January, the state attorney general released a report confirming that thousands more had died from COVID-19 in New York nursing homes than the Cuomo administration had previously recognized.

In February, a former counselor who previously commented on social media about being sexually harassed by the Democrat published an essay detailing what she called unwanted contact, suggestive comments and a kiss on the lips..

More women followed with stories of being ogled, asked questions about their sex lives, and comments about their appearance. A woman accused him of groping his chest.

Former political allies called for Cuomo’s resignation, but he clung to his post until August, when the state attorney general released a report finding he sexually harassed 11 women. He resigned as state lawmakers began to move towards impeachment.

In October he was charged in a criminal complaint forced touching, although it is not yet clear whether prosecutors will pursue the case.

And in December, ex-governor’s brother Chris Cuomo was fired from his CNN anchor post after new revelations he tried to help Andrew discredit his accusers.

Here, the Associated Press reporter who covered the Cuomo administration reflects on history and her own experiences.

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MARINA VILLENEUVE, correspondent, Albany, NY

WOMEN: In 2020, with the COVID pandemic, Cuomo became this huge figure of international renown leading New York’s response, and he held daily press conferences for a while. And that was really interesting, because he was known to be the kind of governor who usually didn’t have a lot of press availability.

Then, earlier this year, when sexual harassment charges were brought, when women reported sexual harassment against him, he was out of press availability. Instead, he went back to making speeches and holding a few press conferences. His office has been very protective of the Governor throughout the past year, and I just had to remember to always be very skeptical of any responses I would get from them.

And as this year unfolded and we saw an attorney general report on the sexual harassment allegations, and more files were released throughout the year, it was truly fascinating to see how important it was to have this skepticism about administration… and it’s a pretty unique opportunity to have an investigation that looks in part at how a governor’s administration was trying to run and run hide the problems.

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I really felt a lot of pressure to responsibly account for the stories of these women, while also checking everything.

I think it was really interesting to see how members of Cuomo’s circle, including his brother, really pushed to control the governor’s response, and tried to get a feel for the other allegations and how they were. would respond to the allegations. .

I think it was really telling to see this development. And again, this has reinforced the need to be skeptical of what we hear from government officials. And I think it’s really not at all clear what the former governor is going to do now. We are trying to find out if he could soon return to the private sector or run for office in a few years.

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CARE HOMES: At the start of the pandemic in 2020, myself and other reporters were asking lots of questions about the impact of COVID on nursing homes, and the Cuomo administration sometimes argued that the release of the data would put endanger the privacy of patients. The governor also claimed that New York’s nursing homes had been hit much less hard than other states, but he relied on partial data. And as the data came in – through my own reports and reports from others as well – we learned that the administration was not providing a full picture and was only reporting a few deaths … to give the impression that there weren’t that many. people dying from COVID in nursing homes. And there remain many questions as to whether the state could have done more to prevent the deaths, whether policies made the epidemics worse, and what lessons it learned.

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It was quite shocking because the nursing home outbreaks were such a severe crisis, and you couldn’t really imagine a government’s approach would be to mask how serious the outbreaks were. So yeah, I guess it was shocking to me. I think for some of the other reporters who have been covering the Governor for longer, they were aware of his reputation, or that New York style of exaggeration, but it was shocking to be sure.

Earlier this year, the attorney general’s office released this big, in-depth investigation which really confirmed what I and others in PA had pieced together. We called the nursing homes a lot and asked how many deaths there had been or how many infections. And there would still be a lot of discrepancies between federal data and state data. Much has been done to ask the Department of Health for the reasons for these shortcomings or discrepancies. And I made a story this summer just by watching how, just before the governor’s resignation, New York was still reporting this lower death toll statewide that didn’t include confirmed COVID deaths in people’s homes. . This only included confirmed deaths from COVID in hospitals. And that’s something the new governor changed on day one.

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For a full overview of the events that shaped 2021, “A Year That Changed Us: 12 Months in 150 Photos”, a collection of AP photos and journalist memorabilia, is available now: https: // www. ap.org/books / a-year-that-changed-us

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